The human gut is home to four genera of fungi including candida, saccharomyces, aspergillus, and penicillium. Like certain gut bacteria, these fungi make up a collection of microorganisms that even under normal situations inhabit the gut and are referred to as the normal flora. Although these organisms pose no threat to the gut, they can be very dangerous if allowed to cross the gut wall and gain access to the body. To ensure that these organisms do not cross the gut wall, the immune system of the body is highly effective and reliable.
In recent research by scientists at the University of Birmingham and the National Institutes of Health, it was discovered that patients on antibiotics in hospitals were more likely to get fungal infections. This observation was linked to the damaging effects of antibiotics on the patient’s immune system.
Effect of antibiotics on the gut’s normal flora and possible prophylactic measures
In the study, the researchers used mice treated with an extensive antibiotic mixture and then infected these animals with Candida albicans, the most common causative fungi for candidiasis in humans. They discovered an increased mortality rate of the rats associated with intestinal infection rather than renal or other organ infections.
The team discovered that certain parts of the immune system were deficient after treatment and made necessary compensations in the mice using immune-boosting drugs similar to those used in humans. They discovered this approach to be highly effective in reducing the severity of fungi infections.
Interestingly, when they studied hospital records, they discovered similar patterns of co-infections in humans treated with antibiotics.
The study implied that a higher incidence of fungal infections accompanied intake of antibiotics which is expected given the circumstances. However, rather unexpectedly, the team also discovered that where fungal infections developed due to immunosuppression, gut bacteria could also escape, thereby resulting in an additional risk of bacterial infection.
The study published in Cell Host and Microbe shows the importance of immune-boosting drugs as prophylactic measures for antibiotic treatment. Since antibiotics depress the immune system culminating in an increase in the damaging effects of the gut bacteria and fungi.
Some diseases arise not because some microorganism from our environment invaded the body but because those organisms which make up the normal flora found a way of bypassing the immune system responsible for keeping them in check. The life-threatening candidiasis caused by a fungus in the genus candida is a major complication for hospitalized patients on antibiotics used to prevent sepsis. This discovery provides an in-depth understanding to the physician and helps them take prophylactic measures such as using immune boosters against occurrences of the disease in these patients.
While the use of antibiotics is in fact good for destroying invading bacteria, the findings of this research demonstrate that patients on these medications are at risk of developing fungal infections. It provides a clue to a better understanding of drug dosage to avoid overt immunosuppression and insight on prophylactic measures to avoid diseases that may arise from medications.